45 years ago today Walker's Pillarwas felled in iconoclastic IRA blast

Cloaked in a dusty tarpaulin, the nine foot tall statue of Rev. George Walker, minus one arm, lay in the morning sunlight on Derry's historic Walls, writes Sean McLaughlin.

Tuesday, 28th August 2018, 10:00 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd September 2018, 12:15 pm

Beside it, the shattered remains of the ninety-six foot high pillar from which it had looked down triumphantly on Derry’s largely nationalist and republican Bogside for 145 years.

The statue, one of Orangeism’s precious symbols of Protestant Ascendancy in an overwhelmingly Catholic city, had been devastated by a bomb detonated just a few minutes after midnight on August 27, 1973.

The explosion, which was heard over a wide area of the city, was the result of a 100lbs bomb which ripped the pillar from its base and left only a seven foot stump standing.

When it became evident that the pillar had been felled, hundreds of people took to the streets to collect pieces of debris as souvenirs.

George Walker

Walker’s Pillar was a memorial and a tribute to Rev. George Walker, the rector of Donaghmore, Co. Tyrone, who came to Derry prior to the Siege of 1688-89.

He was quickly appointed co-governor, along with Major Baker, and inspired the blockaded citizens to endure much hardship during the Siege.

The foundation stone of the monument - which stood on the central western bastion known as Royal Bastion - was laid on December 18, 1826, by the city’s Mayor, Major Richard Young.

The column itself was completed in August 1828 at a total cost of 4,200, including 100 for the statue.

The cost was defrayed by members of the “Apprentice Boys and friends” and included a donation of 50 guineas from The Honourable The Irish Society and 50 from Londonderry Corporation.

The inscriptions, in marble tablets, on the four sides of the base, as well as including the names of the Siege heroes, also included the following inscription: “This monument was erected to perpetuate the memory of Rev. George Walker who, aided by the garrison and brave inhabitants of this city, most gallantly defended through a protracted siege, from the 7th December 1688 to the 1st August following, against an arbitrary and bigoted monarch, heading an army of upwards of 20,000 men, many of whom were foreign mercenaries, and by such valiant conduct in numerous sorties and by patiently enduring extreme privations and sufferings, successfully resisted the besiegers and preserved for their posterity the blessings of civil and religious liberty.”

Spiral staircase The Doric column was 96 feet in height and six feet nine inches in circumference. Inside was a spiral staircase with 110 steps.

The column was surmounted by a square platform with a railing, and there stood the statue, in its right hand a bible and with its left hand extended and pointing down river towards the Boom, the breaking of which heralded the end of the Siege.

Originally, the left hand held a sword, but during a night of storm in the early part of this century the sword was blown down.

Pillar of unionism

The pillar was an object of affection for unionists but was regarded by the city’s Catholic majority as one of the tangible examples of unionist and Protestant ascendancy. Its use as the focal point of Relief celebrations was resented because of its position overlooking the Bogside.

The year 1832 saw the first burning of the effigy of Lundy from the column and from that date it was traditionally burned there each year on the anniversary of the Shutting of the Gates.

However, 1832 marked the passing of an Anti-Processions Act and the parade was banned.

The effigy of Lundy was taken down from its usual location, the Corporation Hall at the Diamond, and a squad of police were assigned to guard it and prevent its burning.

The Apprentice Boys, however, had other plans. At around noon, the effigy was stolen from under the noses of the police, taken to the Walker Monument, suspended by a rope from the top and reduced to ashes, while Roaring Meg was fired from the quay.

Irish Tricolour

More than 100 years later, in 1951, at Easter, the pillar was the centre of another early morning sensation.

As the sun rose, an Irish Tricolour was seen flying from the monument, directly beside Walker. ‘Offending’ flag

There was consternation in Orange circles and police and members of the Apprentice Boys eventually got inside the pillar - the door lock had been broken and replaced with another - and hurriedly removed the “offending” flag.

Nobody was ever charged with the “crime” but it was widely believed to be the work of a leading Derry republican.

The ‘Derry Journal’ reported the incredible incident as follows: “Our reporter says that by the time the sky had cleared, and in the light of the full moon, the Tricolour could be quite clearly seen.

“It had been perfectly raised to the top of the vertical flagpole and, fanned by a slight breeze from the south-west, it floated fully spread out and presented an impressive sight. It was right over the head of the Orangemen’s hero, Rev. George Walker.”

The flag was erected by the well-known Derry republican, Manus Canning, who died in March of this year.

Mr. Canning subsequently joined the IRA’s Derry brigade and was part of a group which successfully raided Ebrington Barracks in the city’s Waterside to secure arms and ammunition.

Iconoclastic IRA

The IRA unit which planted the 1973 bomb is believed to have done so under the noses of strict British Army security.

Ten minutes before the blast, a warning was phoned to the police that there was a bomb in Magazine Street and it was probably during the “flap” caused by the diversionary tactic that the bombers completed their escapade.

‘No regrets’ Mr. Eddie McAteer, the Nationalist Party president, believed he spoke for the city’s Catholic majority when he said: “I deplore the manner in which the monument has gone - but I have no regrets that it is gone.”

He added: “I trust this will not lead to other explosions of like nature, or to attacks on, say, the City Walls, which are a piece of Irish history and are our common heritage in this city.”

The IRA said: “The monument was built in defiance of the nationally-minded people of Derry and served as a symbol of unionist domination.

“Once again we have demonstrated our ability to strike at the enemy when and where we choose.”